Though it receives less notoriety than texting while driving, drowsy driving is a major problem in the United States. It is estimated that 1 in 25 adult drivers report having fallen asleep while driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that on a yearly basis,100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of fatigued driving. Every year, there are 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion lost because of reckless, drowsy drivers.

Truck drivers, drivers of passenger cars, and pedestrians are at risk when a drowsy driver takes to the road. Driving drowsy, while seemingly innocent, can leave a driver impaired in the same ways as intoxication.

Who is Most Likely to Drive Drowsy?

People at different stages of their lives have varying sleep patterns. It should not come as a surprise that young people are more likely to get into a car accident as a result of driving drowsy, primarily young men. Adults with children and shift workers also consistently experience accidents while driving tired.

People whose commitments keep them from sleep may not realize just what an impact this has on their driving. An Australian study showed that being awake for 18 hours impaired a driver’s abilities as much as a blood alcohol concentration of .05, and .10 after 24 hours.

Penalties for Drowsy Driving

A person who gets pulled over several times for driving erratically because of his or her drowsiness may receive prison time. But that is nothing compared to the personal, professional, and economic repercussions of causing harm to a person as a result of driving drowsy.

If a sleepy driver harms someone’s body or property during an accident, the damages caused by drowsy driving could result in a million-dollar settlement. The party that was hurt, or his or her family in the event of death, can open a personal injury case to recover damages. The drowsy driver could take a massive financial hit as a result of his or her recklessness.

Inconsistent Definitions of “Drowsy”

Another factor that makes drowsy driving an especially life-altering offense is the lack of universally agreed-upon tests to determine sleepiness. Whereas a drunk driver will be given a breathalyzer test to prove his or her intoxication, pulled-over drowsy drivers may be given a ticket just for looking tired.

Every state in the U.S. currently addresses fatigue in their crash reports in some way, but the codes are inconsistent between states. Missouri and Wisconsin do not have official codes for fatigue at all. Since there is no agreement about what drowsy means, or how to spot it, a fatigued driver has no way of knowing how strongly the law will be enforced should they get pulled over.

Micro-Sleep

Since being drowsy inherently makes a person less aware of his or her body, it may be difficult for someone to realize when he or she is driving drowsy. This lack of self-awareness can be dangerous because it could lead to jags of micro-sleep.

A micro-sleep is a short, involuntary period of inattention. It lasts four to five seconds, which may not seem like a very long time. However, at highway speed, a car will travel the length of a football field in that period. Any number of accidents could occur under those conditions. A person who experiences a moment of micro-sleep should remove himself or herself from the road before he or she causes an accident.

Drowsy driving, while it does not garner the same public attention as texting while driving, is nevertheless a very serious issue. For people who are sleep deprived, the last thing they need is to enter into a costly, damaging experience with the law.

Drivers should be aware that some police officers may be much harsher when it comes to sleep-deprived driving. They should look out for moments of micro-sleep. It behooves everyone to be aware of their bodies and to know when it is time to pull over and rest.